Edinburgh City taking a young Hibs player on loan isn’t anything unusual in itself, but Andrew Blake finding himself in Scotland this year is partly down to his brother’s skills with the oval ball as well as his own with the round one.
The 21-year-old signed a one-year deal with the Hibees after arriving from New Zealand in the summer, and promptly joined City until the New Year on transfer deadline day in order to supplement his Development League action for Hibs Under-20s with competitive football.
Having an older sibling who is also a Scottish rugby internationalist, it turns out, eased his path to the SPFL.
“My brother Hugh plays professional rugby over here,” explained Blake. “He came over in 2014 and signed a Scottish Rugby Union contract to play for Edinburgh, then made his debut for the Scottish national team against Ireland in 2015 and made the Six Nations squad. “The SRU then moved him to Glasgow Warriors but he wasn’t picking up much game time so he’s actually been playing for Scotland 7s over the summer. He’s back in New Zealand just now playing professionally but he’s due back in October on contract. It’ll be good to have some family back while I’m playing my football here.
“He knew an up-and-coming agent, Josh Waldin, who looked after a couple of rugby players and wanted to get in to football and had a few contacts in the game. Before I packed my bags and came over, I had pre-trials which put me in to the situation where Hibs offered me a contract. I’m very appreciative of what Josh’s done for me.”
Despite his brother’s prowess and growing up in a country where rugby is everything, Blake admitted it was always football for him. “We come from a family of four boys and we all played football growing up,” he recalled. “We had a philosophy that football was the best sport to gain vision and awareness in all aspects of life!
“Once we were ten we got the choice of moving into rugby and all my brothers, who are all older than me, picked rugby but I lacked a bit of size and stuck with football. I’d had a bit of success with it and knew I wanted to play for the rest of my life. We qualify for Scotland through my grandparents – they’re Weegies. That’s how he can play for Scotland and how I’m eligible to play as a resident player over here. I’ve been in the All-Whites [New Zealand’s national team] training squads a couple of times but haven’t made my debut, so once I get regular football at a high level over here, the next goal would be representing my country.”
Despite his heritage, this is Blake’s first time in Scotland. “My parents have popped back over a few times,” he said. “My dad actually worked over here as a 20-year-old and shore sheep in Scotland and Wales for a couple of years then moved back. They were over for the Rugby World Cup a couple of years ago and are due back at Christmas so Scotland is back as a regular haunt for my family now!”
Long term, Blake hopes the Hibs first team will become a regular haunt for himself, and he doesn’t have to look far for an example of how Edinburgh City can help him move closer to that goal. “Before I signed my loan contract I was obviously talking with Hibs about what I could get out of it and they kept using Ryan Porteous as an example,” he revealed. “He covered about 60 games last season and it’s been nothing but positive for him. He’s been moved in to the first team and has obviously caught the gaffer’s eye and he’s in and out of the team.
“If I can play every game for City as well as the development games at Hibs then hopefully I’ll have picked up enough game time for the gaffer to be happy with and become a consistent first-team trainer.”
A more immediate ambition is a third successive win when League Two title favourites Peterhead visit Ainslie Park tomorrow. “Our tails are up after two wins in a row,” said Blake.